“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."


“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."



African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
Heads of governments during the opening session of the African Union summit on January 30, 2015 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.
Loading...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Four Yemenis freed from Guantanamo arrive in Saudi Arabia

Yahoo – AFP, Abdulhadi Habtoor, January 5, 2017

A former Yemeni inmate, released from the US military prison in Guantanamo
Bay, is welcomed by his family upon his arrival in Riyadh on January 5, 2017
(AFP Photo/STRINGER)

Riyadh (AFP) - Four Yemenis released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay arrived Thursday in Saudi Arabia to a tearful reunion with relatives, after the White House rejected Donald Trump's call for a freeze on transfers.

The Pentagon confirmed the detainee transfers, and said there are now 55 inmates still being held in the military detention centre in Cuba.

In the Saudi capital, an AFP reporter saw the four prisoners after they landed at a terminal normally reserved for royals at the Riyadh international airport.

Prisoners and family members wept as they saw each other for the first time in years.

One of the released inmates, Salim Ahmed bin Kanad, told reporters he felt "born again" after seeing his relatives.

Another, Mohammed Bawazir, said he hoped to move on and forget the past.

"I want to give back to my family the 15 years I lost," he said.

Officials identified the other former prisoners as Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim and Abdullah Yahya al-Shalabi.

"The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon said.

Outgoing US President Barack Obama's pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay facility has been met with legal and political hurdles for years, and on Tuesday, his successor jumped into the fray.

"There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield," Trump tweeted.

Hours later, Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest said he would expect "additional transfers" before the Democrat hands power to Trump on January 20.

Saudi King Salman has said the four Yemenis who arrived Thursday will live in the kingdom, where they will take part in a rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programme, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The bearded ex-prisoners appeared healthy and were all dressed in two-piece Pakistani-style tunics.

One prisoner was welcomed by 21 relatives, including children, but only a handful greeted the others.

A lone woman waited for one of the inmates.

Reporters were kept in the terminal and could not see what type of aircraft had transported them.

Prisoners and family members wept as they saw each other 
for the first time in years (AFP Photo/STRINGER)

Whittling down numbers

Obama came to office eight years ago vowing to close the Guantanamo facility, arguing that detention without trial did not reflect American values.

But he has run up against Pentagon foot-dragging and stubborn Republican opposition in Congress.

With Guantanamo's closure blocked, Obama's White House has focused on whittling down the number of inmates.

Before Thursday's transfer, around 20 of the remaining prisoners had been cleared for removal. But finding countries to take them has often proven time-consuming.

Only a handful of those who remain have started moving through military tribunals, including the alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks.

Many of the others are in legal limbo -- not charged but deemed too dangerous to release.

Fifteen of the 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 were Saudi. But Riyadh denies any ties to the plotters who killed nearly 3,000 people.

In recent months, Obama has authorised a flurry of transfers of prisoners to other countries -- prompting outrage from Republicans each time.

In April, nine Yemeni inmates were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, the first time the kingdom received any inmates from the facility.

The move followed years of negotiations with the Saudi government.

Yemen's civil war meant those inmates could not be sent to their home country.

Obama's predecessor George W. Bush released or transferred around 500 inmates before leaving office. Obama had released or transferred more than 180.

Friday, December 30, 2016

China to ban ivory trade by end of 2017: media

Yahoo – AFP, December 30, 2016

China has a stockpile of ivory purchased with CITES approval in 2008,
which it releases for sale with certification (AFP Photo/FRED DUFOUR)

Beijing (AFP) - China will ban all domestic ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017, state media reported Friday, a move hailed by activists as a "game changer" for African elephants.

African ivory is highly sought after in China where it is seen as a status symbol -- prices for a kilo (2.2 pounds) can reach as much as $1,100.

"China will gradually stop the processing and sales of ivories for commercial purposes by the end of 2017," the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a government statement.

"Before that deadline, law enforcement agencies will continue to clamp down on illegalities associated with the elephant's tusk," Xinhua added, citing an official with the State Forestry Administration.

The announcement follows Beijing's announcement in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975, after pressure to restrict a trade that sees thousands of elephants slaughtered every year.

Major trafficking routes of large-scale African ivory consignments 2000-2015
 (AFP Photo/John SAEKI, Adrian LEUNG)

Xinhua said the complete ban would affect "34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with dozens to be closed by the end of March 2017".

"This is great news that will shut down the world's largest market for elephant ivory," Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, said in a statement.

"I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction. This is a game changer for Africa's elephants."

Conservationists estimate that more than 20,000 elephants were killed for their ivory last year, with similar tolls in previous years. The WWF campaign group says 415,000 of the animals remain.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which took effect in 1975, banned the ivory trade in 1989.

China permits the resale of ivory bought before the 1989 ban -- and also has a stockpile purchased with CITES approval in 2008, which it releases for sale with certification.

WWF also praised China's move to a complete ban but called on the Chinese territory of Hong Kong to bring forward a plan to end its ivory trade by 2021.

WWF said legal research published by the conservation group shows an ivory ban could be imposed "much sooner under current Hong Kong law".

"With China’s market closed, Hong Kong can become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of the legal ivory trade," said Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer at WWF.

The United States -- the world's second-largest consumer of illegal ivory after China -- announced in June a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory but with notable exemptions including antiques.

Related Articles:



Monday, December 26, 2016

Ebola vaccine may be 'up to 100% effective': WHO

Yahoo – AFP, Marlowe Hood, December 23, 2016

In a major clinical trial, nearly 6,000 people in Guinea were given the test vaccine
last year, at the tail end of a lethal epidemic of Ebola and non of them contracted
the disease (AFP Photo/CELLOU BINANI)

Paris (AFP) - A prototype vaccine for Ebola may be "up to 100 percent effective" in protecting against the deadly virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

If all goes well, the vaccine could become available in 2018 under a fast-track approval process, it said.

In a major clinical trial, nearly 6,000 people in Guinea were given the test vaccine last year, at the tail end of a lethal epidemic of Ebola.

Not one of the 6,000 contracted the disease.

But in a control group of volunteers that did not receive the vaccine, 23 Ebola cases occurred, researchers reported in The Lancet medical journal.

"If we compare zero to 23, this strongly suggests that the vaccine is very effective, that it could be up to 100 percent effective," Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's assistant director-general and lead author of the study, told AFP.

Her team of three dozen researchers calculated a 90-percent likelihood during a full-fledged epidemic that the vaccine, dubbed rVSV-ZEBOV, would work in more than 80 percent of cases.

"After 40 years, we appear to now have an effective vaccine for Ebola virus disease to build upon," Thomas Geisbert, a scientist at Galveston National Laboratory in Texas who did not take part in the study, wrote in a commentary, also in The Lancet.

Factfile on how the Ebola virus attacks (AFP Photo/John Saeki/Adrian Leung)

'Compassionate use'

First identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ebola virus erupted periodically in outbreaks of up to a couple hundred cases, mainly across west and east Africa.

In early 2014, however, a handful of infections in southern Guinea mushroomed rapidly into an epidemic.

Over the next two years, more than 28,000 people fell ill, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some 11,300 died.

With a mortality rate above 40 percent, the disease -- one of a category of so-called haemorrhagic fevers -- has an incubation period of up to three weeks. It causes violent and painful symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhoea, organ failure and internal bleeding.

The new vaccine was initially developed in Canada by public health authorities before being taken over by pharmaceutical giant Merck.

It is slated to be submitted by Merck to health authorities in the United States and Europe sometime next year under a fast-track approval process.

"We may have a vaccine which is registered in 2018," Kieny told journalists at a press conference Thursday, noting that the standard approval process for a new drug takes a decade, if not more.

In the meantime, Merck has committed to ensuring that 300,000 doses of the vaccine are available for emergencies under a protocol called "compassionate use".

"They will be able to produce a million in very short period of time," Kieny noted.

Of the more than 6,000 people injected with the Ebola vaccine only two showed 
serious adverse effects, the study reported, both recovered fully (AFP Photo/
CELLOU BINANI)

Unanswered questions

There are still questions to be resolved concerning the vaccine, including side effects.

Initial tests last year did not include children, while the most recent trials covered those over six years old.

Of the more than 6,000 people injected with the Ebola vaccine only two showed serious adverse effects, the study reported. Both recovered fully.

But it is still unknown if the vaccine is safe for children six and under, pregnant women, or people with the AIDS virus -- all groups that were excluded from the most recent trials.

Another unknown is how long innoculation lasts.

"With the Canadian Merck vaccine, you have a protection very early after vaccination, but we don't know if it will last after six months," Kieny said.

Other Ebola vaccines under development -- some of which have been tested in humans -- could prove more effective over a longer period.

British firm Glaxosmithkline and Johnson & Johnson, based in the United States, each have experimental products in the pipeline.

China and Russia have also developed vaccines, with the Russian one having just finished the second phase of three-step clinical trials.

Some of these vaccines require two doses three weeks apart, and may confer a longer immunity.

"That might be better suited to immunise health workers in advance of an outbreak," Kieny said.

Health officials also point to the fact that other strains of the virus -- including one in Sudan -- will require the development of separate vaccines.


Health workers assist a patient suspected of having Ebola on their way to a
 treatment centre run by the French Red Cross in Patrice, Guinea, on
November 21, 2014 (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard)

Related Articles:



“ .. The Role of Gaia in Human Consciousness

One of those times might be frightening for you to know about, since it was a full cooperation with Gaia for your termination, and a pandemic almost wiped humanity off the map. A pandemic! Now, you say, "What has that got to do with Human consciousness, Kryon?" Pay attention, dear ones, because this is the day where the teaching was given by my partner, and he put together the Nine Human Attributes. One of the attribute sets included three Gaia attributes and one of them was the consciousness of the planet. Gaia is related to Human consciousness!

Are you starting to connect the dots? You are connected to this planet in a profound and spiritual way. As goes humanity goes the planet's consciousness. Gaia, Mother Nature, whatever you want to call it, cooperates with Human consciousness. If you spend 1,000 years killing each other, then Gaia will do its best to cooperate with your desires! Gaia will look at Human consciousness and try to help with what you have shown you like to do! Did you know this role of Gaia with you? It's a partner with you, fast tracking what you give to it. You may wish to review what the indigenous of the planet still understand. Gaia is a partner!

Pandemic: Don't you find it odd that in the last 50 years, when you have a population of seven billion Human Beings, with up to 2,000 airplanes in the air at any given moment, going between almost every conceivable place, that there has not been a pandemic in your lifetime? There have been five starts of potential pandemics over the last 20 years, yet none became serious. Did any of you put this together? Dear ones, when the world was far less populated a few hundred years ago, with no mass travel to spread a virus, there were still millions wiped out by a pandemic. With the increased population and mass travel, there is far more danger today than before. It doesn't make sense, does it? What happened to stop it?

When you know humanity's relationship to Gaia, it makes sense. Gaia is a life-force that is your partner, watching you change the balance of light and dark and reflecting what Humans want. It has polarity, too! Perhaps it's time to start your meditations with thanking your planet Earth for supporting you in the spirituality of your Akash, for always being with you, a life-force that is always present. The ancients started their ceremonies in that way. Have you forgotten?

Ebola

Now, I've just set the stage for the next subject, haven't I? Ebola. Are you afraid yet? Gaia is a life-force that is a part of Human consciousness. My partner put it on the screen today so you could see the connections [during the lecture series]. Now it's time to connect the dots. Dear one, Gaia is in the battle, too, for here comes something scary that you haven't had in your lifetime and you're afraid of it - the potential of a pandemic on the planet.

There's a very famous film that has some dialogue that my partner will quote. Some of you will know it and some of you won't, but here it is: "Have a little fire, scarecrow?" What are you afraid of? Darkness? Gaia is in the battle with you and is actively pursuing solutions through light. The energy of the planet is with you in this fight! The ebola virus is a shock and a surprise. It is propelled by ignorance and fear, so it can flourish. Look at where it started and look at how it gets its ability to continue. It expands its fear and power easily with those who believe it's a curse instead of those who understand the science.

Villages are filled with those who refuse to leave their family members because they believe the disease is a curse! FEAR! Instead of understanding that they should be in isolation from the virus, the family dies together through ignorance and fear. This represents how darkness works. Are you going to become afraid also? Dear ones, ebola will be conquered. Know this and be at peace. Pray for light for those in the villages who are afraid, that they can know more about how to keep the spread of this disease and live to see their families
. .”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

West African leaders call for a swift resolution to Gambia's political crisis

West African leaders in the ECOWAS bloc have said they will undertake all necessary actions to uphold the election results in Gambia. They have called for the safety of the president-elect to be guaranteed.

Deutsche Welle, 17 December 2016


West African leaders of ECOWAS, the regional group of 15 countries promoting economic integration,  gathered in the Nigerian capital on Saturday seeking a quick resolution to a political crisis in Gambia. Their meeting follows a close, disputed election after which President Yahya Jammeh called for a new poll.

ECOWAS leaders said at the end of their summit that they would attend the inauguration of president-elect Adama Barrow (photo) on January 18 and called on Jammeh to guarantee the safety of the president-elect. The West African regional bloc said on Saturday it would take all necessary actions to uphold the result of a the December 1 election.

Jammeh shocked Gambians by conceding defeat to opposition leader Barrow after the polls closed but soon changing his mind and calling for a new election. The United Nations, the United States and the African Union have all condemned Jammeh's actions.

Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The people of Gambia "voted decisively for a change in the political leadership of the country," Liberian President and ECOWAS chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told the summit. Leaders must decide "measures to bring this matter to successful conclusion before January 19" when Jammeh's mandate expires.

Eleven presidents were at the summit in Abuja, Nigeria, with four absentees, most notably Jammeh.


ECOWAS President Marcel de Souza said this week that a military intervention and "draconian measures" must be considered if diplomacy failed with Jammeh.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN top envoy for West Africa, said the global body would back efforts to resolve the political crisis.

"The UN remains concerned by some of the worrisome developments that occurred during the post-election period in The Gambia," Chambas said at the summit.

Those concerns included "in particular, the seizure of the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission by the Gambian military," Chambas added.

Ruling party challenge

The ruling party filed a court challenge against the election results last Tuesday, a constitutional move that was further complicated by the fact that Gambia's Supreme Court did not have a quorum.

The United States cast doubt on the court, saying it doubted it was "a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of Gambia's democratic process."

Barrow has said he fears for his life.

A joint statement issued by Amnesty International, Article 19 and RADDHO rights groups said, "We ask ECOWAS and the international community to ensure this choice is respected and to do all they can so that the democratic transition is not impeded."

bik/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ghana's new leader urges respect for democracy in Africa

Yahoo – AFP, Stephanie FINDLAY,  December 10, 2016

"I believe that those who are going against the idea of competitive politics,
electoral politics, are fighting the tide of history in West Africa and in the general
African region," the winner of Ghana's presidential election Akufo-Addo told
AFP (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

Accra (AFP) - The winner of Ghana's presidential election Nana Akufo-Addo on Saturday warned that African leaders who reject democracy were "fighting the tide of history", following his nation's high-stakes vote.

Defying predictions that the presidential race would be neck-and-neck, Akufo-Addo sailed to victory on a wave of anger over a sputtering economy, winning 53.8 percent of Wednesday's vote over incumbent John Mahama.

And fears of widespread violence and concerns over the independence of Ghana's electoral commission never materialised, cementing the West African country's reputation as a beacon of democracy in a region plagued by dictators and coups.

"I believe that those who are going against the idea of competitive politics, electoral politics, are fighting the tide of history in West Africa and in the general African region," Akufo-Addo told AFP in an interview at his modest house in the capital of Accra.

While praising the "consolidation of democracy" in Ivory Coast and Nigeria, Akufo-Addo hit out at leaders clinging to power.

"What is taking place in The Gambia is unfortunate," Akufo-Addo said, referring to longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh who had conceded defeat in last week's election but did a dramatic -- and unexpected -- U-turn on Friday, saying he would challenge the results.

"Our people appreciate and understand and are happy with the values of democracy," said the 72-year-old human rights lawyer, wearing a white collared shirt and his trademark round-rimmed glasses, which he buys in New York.

On the shelves in his home office is a white sculpture of an elephant -- the symbol of his New Patriotic Party (NPP) -- along with books ranging in topics from former British prime minister Tony Blair to pentecostal exorcism.

In his victory speech, Akufo-Addo said the win was the most "humbling moment in my life" and pledged to put Ghana "back on the path of progress and prosperity."

Ghana's President-elect and candidate of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), 
Nana Akufo-Addo speaks during an interview at his residence in Accra, on 
December 10, 2016, a day after winning the national election (AFP Photo/
Pius Utomi Ekpei)

'Get Ghana working again'

An apparent collapse of support in the battleground central region of Ghana seemed to have doomed Mahama's ruling New Democratic Congress (NDC) party, which lost with 44.4 percent of vote.

During the heated campaign, Mahama had criss-crossed the country inaugurating splashy infrastructure projects, earning the nickname "general commissioner" for the number of ribbon-cutting ceremonies he attended.

But soaring debt, high inflation and a weak cedi currency were ultimately too much to swallow for the frustrated electorate.

In 2015, Mahama was forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a $918 million bailout.

This year Ghana grew at its slowest pace -- around 3.3 percent -- in over two decades.

Akufo-Addo had promised to act quickly to stop a "borrowing binge" that "mortgaged our future".

Underscoring his commitment to the economy and creating jobs, he appointed Mahamudu Bawumia, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Ghana to be his running mate.

Describing the economic climate as a "difficult situation," Akufo-Addo admitted "there is a hanging debt of considerable proportions."

In his election manifesto, he laid out a plan to restore economic stability and encourage investment by slashing the corporate tax rate and abolishing taxes on everything from real estate sales to domestic flight tickets.

"The measures that can stimulate agricultural production, the measures that can stimulate industrial activity and manufacturing, this is the main focus," Akufo-Addo said, promising to "get Ghana working again."

'Joyous moment'

Ghanaians seem thrilled to give him the chance.

Outside his house, hundreds of supporters were still celebrating his election in the streets, blowing horns and dancing.

For many, Akufo-Addo's victory validates Ghana's democracy.

"It's a joyous moment," said Daniel Ofori, 28, who was wearing a big red, white and blue NPP flag as a cape.

"It's been happy for us because our democracy is growing and is maturing," Ofori said.

"This has been the most free and fair election in our country."

Related Article:



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Nana Akufo-Addo wins Ghana presidential election

Yahoo – AFP, Stephanie Findlay and Stacey Knott, December 10, 2016

President and candidate of Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress party
 John Mahama leaves after voting in the Bole district, northern region, on
December 7, 2016 (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

Accra (AFP) - Challenger Nana Akufo-Addo won Ghana's national election on Friday, tapping into an electorate fed up with a sputtering economy and ready for change.

The erudite 72-year-old human rights lawyer cruised to victory winning 53.8 percent of the votes, according to the country's election agency.

"I will not let you down. I will do all in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations," Akufo-Addo said to an ecstatic crowd at his house in the country's capital of Accra.

"I will do my best to serve your interests and put our country back on the path of progress and prosperity."

Incumbent John Mahama conceded defeat in the evening two days after a hotly contested race that was seen as a test of the country's democracy in a region plagued by dictators and coups.

Mahama called to congratulate opposition leader Akufo-Addo, whose New Patriotic Party (NPP) supporters had been gathering for hours outside his house after local media gave him a clear lead following the Wednesday vote.

"Yes he has conceded defeat," George Lawson of Mahama's New Democratic Congress (NDC) party told AFP.

Akufo-Addo had campaigned on a platform promising to boost growth and deliver jobs.

"The president of Ghana is president for every single Ghanaian," Akufo-Addo said, as fireworks popped overhead and thousands of people cheered in the streets outside his house.

Socio-economic factfile on Ghana (AFP Photo)

'Gold standard'

Akufo-Addo's supporters — almost all in head-to-toe white, a symbol of victory — had been dancing on his lawn for hours in anticipation of his victory speech.

At one point, they broke out in an enthusiastic a cappella rendition of Ghana's national anthem.

"We have won," said Hajia Mustafa, a 44-year-old trader, flashing a wide smile, "I have my president, I have my choice."

The high-stakes race between Akufo-Addo and Mahama has been seen as a litmus test of the stability for one of Africa's most secure democracies.

But fears of widespread violence erupting during the election never materialised, with a generally peaceful voting day followed by calm as the official results trickled in.

"I think Ghanaians should be extraordinarily proud of themselves," said Ambassador Johnnie Carson of the National Democratic Institute, an election observer.

"Ghana has distinguished itself in the last two and a half decades with integrity and transparency," Carson said.

"It is a gold standard for democracy in Africa."

Supporters of Ghana's National Democratic Party (NDC) cheer as they wait
 for results of the general elections, outside incumbent President John Mahama's 
house in the Accra district of Labone, on December 9, 2016 (AFP Photo/
Cristina Aldehuela)

'Escaped violence'

Yet while the European Union Election Observation Mission said that Ghana "largely escaped the violence many had feared" it pointed to other areas of concern.

"The misuse of incumbency, including unequal access to state media, and unaccountable campaign financing were areas Ghana could address in the future," said the mission in a statement.

Akufo-Addo will serve a four-year term in the former British colony, a once booming country that has seen its economy slow, currency deteriorate and inflation soar.

Mahama, who came to power in 2012 after beating Akufo-Addo, had urged voters to "stay the course", promising to deliver more infrastructure projects.

In his third bid for the top job, Akufo-Addo blasted Ghana's poor economic growth rate -- estimated at 3.3 percent in 2016, the lowest rate for two decades -- and laid out a radical vision to transform the country's economy.

Akufo-Addo had also warned his supporters that "vigilance is key" at the polls in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2012 vote -- narrowly won by Mahama with 50.7 percent -- that he contested unsuccessfully in the country's Supreme Court.

Ghana is the world's second biggest producer of cocoa after Ivory Coast and Africa's second biggest gold producer after South Africa.

But it was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2015 for a bailout as global commodity prices tanked.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Gambia's Jammeh concedes defeat, congratulates opponent Barrow

Yahoo – AFP, December 2, 2016

Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh (centre) leaves a polling booth in Banjul
on December 1, 2016 (AFP Photo/MARCO LONGARI)

Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to opposition leader Adama Barrow on Friday night, accepting that Gambians had "decided that I should take the backseat".

Speaking to the public on Gambian television after Thursday's presidential poll, Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his "clear victory", adding: "I wish him all the best and I wish all Gambians the best."

Official results earlier showed Barrow, a businessman and political unknown until six months ago, comfortably winning Thursday's poll with 45.54 percent, capping a remarkable rise to prominence.

"I have always made it very clear that I will never rule this country without your mandate, since we started elections," Jammeh told Gambians, many of whom have only ever known him as president.

"I will never cheat or dispute the election because this is the most transparent, rig-proof elections in the whole world," he added, referring to The Gambia's unique system of voting with marbles.

Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia since taking power in a 1994 coup and is a devout Muslim, said he "would never question Allah's decision today or at any material time," ultimately putting the decision down to fate.

He had a jovial coversation with Barrow by phone that was also broadcast, in which he joked of a possible future career as a farmer back in his hometown of Kanilai.

According to the Gambian constitution Jammeh has 60 days to leave power.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vanilla and spice next to bloom in Dutch greenhouses

Yahoo – AFP, Maude Brulard, November 12, 2016

University of Wageningen researcher Filip van Noort and vanilla grower Joris
Elstgeest inspect vanilla orchids, part of four years of ground-breaking research
(AFP Photo/Maude Brulard)

Bleiswijk (Netherlands) (AFP) - Flowers more exotic than the humble tulip will soon flourish for the first time in Dutch greenhouses after intensive research into growing the capricious vanilla orchid to harvest one of the world's most expensive spices.

In the middle of potato fields in a central Dutch rural town, scientists from Wageningen University have for the past four years been nurturing vanilla orchids. And their research has been deemed a success.

"Based on our information, businesses believe vanilla is a plant with a lot of potential for Dutch greenhouses and have decided to start growing it," said researcher Filip van Noort.

How many orchids will be planted will be decided at the start of the next growing season in the spring, and it will take at least three years before the first Dutch-grown vanilla hits the market.

In Bleiswijk, home to the ground-breaking research, vines from about 100 plants stretch metres high in hot, tropical greenhouses. Hidden under fleshy, oval-shaped leaves are the buds, that will eventually become the vanilla pods so prised by chefs the world over.

"The challenge is to ensure the plants blossom and then to be able to pollinate them in a cost-effective way," said van Noort.

Cultivation of the vanilla orchid is hugely labour intensive as the orchid's flowers 
only last one day and must be pollinated by hand if they are to produce fruit
 (AFP Photo/Maude Brulard)

Black gold

Cultivation is hugely labour intensive. The orchid's flowers only last one day and must be pollinated by hand if they are to produce fruit. So it was an apt challenge for the Dutch -- renowned for their green fingers and their expertise in greenhouse cultivation.

"A few years ago we were looking for new plants which could be grown in Dutch greenhouses," explained van Noort.

The aim was to increase the variety of crops grown by Dutch farmers as they search for improved profits.

Vanilla made sense. Currently the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar holds a quasi-monopoly over world supply producing some 80 percent of global vanilla bean stocks.

It is also the world's second most expensive spice, with prices climbing to 350 euros ($380) a kilo this month -- compared with 60 euros in 2014.

"In the past the price was too low to be interesting. But today, with demand increasing, the prices are rising," said orchid expert Joris Elstgeest.

The long, black vanilla pods, with their distinctive caramel and at times woody scent, have to be collected by hand from the vines and then dried before being sold.

It is the sticky tiny black seeds scraped from inside the pods which are a baker's delight, lending an almost intoxicating flavour to everything from cakes and ice-cream.

The long, black vanilla pods, with their distinctive caramel and at times woody scent, 
have to be collected by hand from the vines and then dried before being sold 
(AFP Photo/Maude Brulard)

All organic

Originating from Mexico, the vanilla orchid was brought to Europe by Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus. But all attempts to grow it in milder climates failed for lack of the type of bee which pollinated the flowers.

It was not until 1841 that someone on the island of Reunion figured out how to pollinate the flowers one-by-one.

That method finally paved the way towards large-scale production, with Madagascar proving the most effective of growers.

But even if prices fall and as other countries explore possible vanilla crops, Dutch growers believe it will prove a good investment.

In past decades, synthetic vanilla flavourings were increasingly adopted by the food industry. But with a return to all things authentic and organic, the real stuff is making a welcome return.

Bleiswijk vanilla is wholly organic, say its Dutch growers, unlike in Madagascar, they claim.

Vanilla is also the world's second most expensive spice, with prices climbing
 to 350 euros ($380) a kilo this month -- compared with 60 euros in 2014 
(AFP Photo/Maude Brulard)

Half of Madagascar's vanilla is exported to Europe, and a third to the United States. But clients say the quality has been slipping, with producers harvesting the pods before they reach maturity to cash in on the price boom.

Some Madagascans even speculate the vanilla industry is being used as a front for the illegal trade in rosewood –- a sought-after product in China.

The Dutch consortium behind the project says it has already received lots of interest from local high-end restaurants as well as food companies.

The Netherlands is a global leader in the art of greenhouse growing with almost 10,000 hectares of this lowlands country set with rows of glasshouses growing all kinds of flowers, fruits and vegetables -- compared to just 1,900 hectares in France.

And researchers are already setting their sights on other spices.

"We've also got black pepper, which seems to be adapting well," said van Noort, adding indigo used to dye blue jeans was another project.

And perhaps saffron -- the world's most expensive spice derived from the saffron crocus -- could be next to flourish here.